Stay Weird – A Writing Prompt

The Prompt

Write a story just for you

A Story and Some Tips

When I was working for the first company to help authors publish using digital print on-demand tech, I talked to a LOT of authors,

  • Best-sellers like Piers Anthony who had grown disillusioned with traditional publishing;
  • Mid list authors who had been dropped by their publishers and wanted to republish out-of-print books or finish out that series their fans wanted;
  • Unpublished authors who hadn’t been able to place their novels with traditional publishers not because of the writing quality but because the publishers couldn’t see a large enough market for it.

Publishing is a business, and it’s hard to get picked, and it’s hard to stay lucky.

And if you want to ‘be published’ traditionally, you must convince someone that there is a large enough audience waiting for it.

But what if that’s not what you’re writing? Should you just stop?

The Woman Who ‘Invented’ a Genre

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[Write on Wednesday] How We Remember Ourselves

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we build characters (both in real life and in fiction). So much of what we ‘know’ is based in the stories we tell about ourselves. That’s what this week’s prompt is all about.

Man's reflection on body of water. Photo from Randy Jacob on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write a story in which a character tells the same story at three different times in their life.

Tips

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[Write on Wednesday] Tell a Story Backwards

This week I’m encouraging you to flip the order of your story to help you think differently about the storytelling process.

Man walking on green grass. Photo by Isaac Mehegan on Unsplash

The Prompt

Start your story with the character walking away from a situation (figuratively-speaking) and then go back and explain how he/she got there.

Tips

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[Write on Wednesday] Solve Plot Problems By Starting With Desire

One of the fastest ways to find your way to the plot of a short story is to come up with a character who wants something and see how they pursue that desire.

A track athlete was participating in a tournament. Photo by Serghei Trofimov from Unsplash

The Prompt

Think of a character who wants something really, really badly. Put an obstacle in your way and let them react to it

Tips

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[Write on Wednesday] Write Your Own Prompts

With StoryADay May just around the corner, I’m taking an opportunity to do something different today: prompting you to create some back-up writing prompts of your own, for days when the official StoryADay prompt leaves you cold (it happens. I’m not offended!)

Photo by Gift Habeshaw from Unsplash.

The Prompt

Write several lines that might work as writing prompts for stories during StoryADay in case there are days when the official prompt doesn’t speak to you.

Tips

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[Write on Wednesday] Not The First

On this day in 1972 John Young and Charles Duke were the 9th and 10th humans to land on the moon. They weren’t the first crew to touch down, nor were they the last (that was the mission after theirs). What they did was still mind-blowingly complex, but didn’t garner nearly as much attention.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write about a character (or duo) who is doing something new and difficult, but they’re not the first to achieve it. What does that do to their attitude to the task, to their relationship with each other, to their relationship with the people around them?

Tips

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[Write on Wednesday] A Writer’s Tale

This month’s prompts are all designed to help you warm up for StoryADay May. This week, an opportunity to think about what it means to be a writer.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Unsplash

The Prompt

Write A Story About A Writer

Tips

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Write On Wednesday – The Missing Package

The Prompt: Write the story of an inanimate object.

This prompt was inspired by a conversation with a StoryADay Superstar who had been waiting for a package to arrive for weeks. We speculated about what it had been up to on its travels, and now it’s your turn.

The Prompt

Write the story of an inanimate object

Tips

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[Write On Wednesday] Nostalgia Foods

The Prompt: Write a story with a pivotal scene where your a character tastes a food they haven’t tasted since childhood.

The Prompt

Write a story with a pivotal scene where your a character tastes a food they haven’t tasted since childhood.

Tips

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Day 30 – An Old Favorite

Today it’s another post from the archives, one of my favourites. And this time you get a peek into the kind of content the Superstars group gets throughout the challenge– perhaps you’ll be able to join us next time!

The Prompt

Write A Story As A Series of Letters/Tweets/Memos

Julie’s Notes

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Day 29 – A Secret Message

Today I dug into the StoryADay archives for a favorite prompt and came up with this one. Those of you who’ve been around for a while may remember it, but I’m betting whatever you come up with for it this year will be COMPLETELY different from how you used it last time.

Today’s prompt was, er, prompted by a brief literary feud.

A TV critic took issue with the latest episodes of the BBC’s Sherlock, complaining that our hero was more James Bond than Conan Doyle’s Holmes. The episode’s writer wrote a response in verse, then the critic wrote back with his own poem. BUT, in the last couple of lines of the poem, he pointed out that he had embedded a hidden message in his words (the second letter of the first word of every line spelled it out).

I was so tickled that I’m stealing the idea (which he stole from Conan Doyle, so I don’t feel bad).

THE PROMPT

Write a story with a hidden message

TIPS

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Day 28 – Jonathan Maberry Sees the Homeless

The Prompt

Write a human-experience short story about a homeless person during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Author

JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times best-selling and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and writing teacher/lecturer. He is the creator of V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series.

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Jonathan Maberry, Deep Silence

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Day 27 – Matty Dalrymple Stares At Clouds

The Prompt

Wake With Clouds

The Author

Matty Dalrymple writes, podcasts, speaks, and consults on the writing craft and the publishing voyage as The Indy Author™, and is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can connect with The Indy Author™  via Facebook and Twitter.

Matty is also the author of the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers Rock Paper ScissorsSnakes and Ladders, and The Iron Ring; the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning; and the Ann Kinnear Suspense Shorts, including Close These Eyes and Write in Water,  and the new writing handbook, Taking the Short Tack:
​Creating Income and Connecting with Readers Using Short Fiction
 which she co-authored with Mark Leslie Lefebvre.

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Matty Dalrymple, The SEnse of Death

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Day 26 – Tammy Breitweiser Notices Things

The Prompt

Make list of 10 things that you noticed about your day already.

Even if you woke up at 4 am there are certainly things you noticed.

Try to be as precise and sensory as possible and try to avoid metaphor.

And then, at the end, connect those pieces together to make a story.

The Author

Tammy Breitweiser is a writer and teacher who is a force of nature, an accidental inspirationalist, the keeper of the little red doors,  and a conjurer of everyday magic who is always busy writing short stories. Her flash fiction has been published in The Ninja Writers Monthly, Spelk, Clover and White, and Elephants Never. Her essay is in the I Wrote it Anyway anthology. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT or through her medium page
Sign up for her newsletter here

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Day 25 – Fleet Sparrow Did It Anyway

The Prompt

“I weighed this against the odds that I was doing something incredibly stupid, and I went ahead anyway.”

The Author

Fleet Sparrow writes queer fan fiction, queer flash fiction, and queer novels.  Generally, things are pretty odd in Fleet’s world.

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Day 24 – Michele Reisinger Loves Cemetaries

The Prompt

Opening Line: “She met her true love in the middle of a field of tombstones.” 

Michele says: I love cemeteries. They have so many stories, so many characters. I find them comforting.

So it does not have to be a scary story, although it can be. It could be the story of people who are interred there.

Their pre life doesn’t have to have a connection to the cemetery. That could just be the starting point.

It could be people who meet there because they are mourning the loss of someone.

Could be your traditional zombie story, horror story mystery story as well.

But I’m just drawn to the idea of cemeteries as places for stories.

The Author

Michele E. Reisinger studied English and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University and received an MA in English Literature from the University of Delaware. She lives near Philadelphia with her family and teaches senior and AP English at a New Jersey high school. Her short fiction has appeared online at Light and Dark MagazinePrometheus Dreaming34th Parallel, and is forthcoming in The Mighty Line. “Ask and Ye Shall Receive” was a merit winner for Passion and featured in TulipTree Publishing’s 2019 anthology Stories That Need to be Told. You can find out more at her website: https://mereisinger.com/

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Day 23 – Monique Cuillerier Mixes & Matches

The Prompt

Write outside your comfort zone with a random genre, weather type, and errand. (see below)

When you are stuck for new ideas, working from specific suggestions can open up new possibilities. They can also take you out of your normal way of working and help you explore different approaches. You never know what sort of story will result.

Roll a die for each category. (Don’t have a physical die? Google can do that for you.)

Then, write a story in your genre, with the particular type of weather and errand.

(Bonus: choose a favourite childhood character as your main character.)

Genre

  1. mystery
  2. romance
  3. fantasy
  4. political satire
  5. science fiction
  6. thriller

Weather

  1. snowstorm
  2. light rain
  3. heat wave
  4. extreme cold
  5. strong wind
  6. sunny and warm

Errand

  1. buy groceries
  2. return library books
  3. make a bank deposit
  4. pick up a child from an extracurricular activity
  5. deliver a birthday present
  6. renew a piece of government identification

The Author

Monique Cuillerier

Monique Cuillerier lives in Ottawa, where she writes fiction, long and short, when she is not procrastinating on Twitter at @MoniqueAC or sporadically posting at notwhereilive.ca. You can read one of Monique’s stories in the anthology Bikes, Not Rockets

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Day 22 – Grant Faulkner is Playful

Welcome to Week 4 of StoryADay! Can you believe you’ve made it this far?

I can tell you from past experience that if you have made it this far, you’re going all the way!

You’ve already spent Week 1 on the “Write” part of the WRITER Code, and Week 2 on “Refine”, concentrating on what was working and what you could let go of in yoru writing and your writing practice.

Last week was all about “Improve”, as you tackled different parts of the story writing craft.

This week’s theme is: “Triumph!”.

This week I want you to make a conscious effort to put a tiny celebration in place whenever you do something that furthers your journey as an author.

  • Got to your desk? Punch the air and say “yeah!”.
  • Finished your story? Give yourself a gold star (literally! Put one in your journal!).
  • Read the prompt and spent the day noodling on story ideas? Take one hand and pat yourself on the back with it.
  • Didn’t get your story written and decided to let it go, but come back tomorrow? Do a little dance, celebrating your ability to overcome disappointments.

There is some serious behavioral science research behind these silly tactics.

When you celebrate, you feel good, and when you feel good, you want to do more of the thing that makes you feel good.

That’s why some of the things we’ll never be, at StoryADay, are somber, judgmental or unrealistic about the challenges of living this writing life!


The Prompt

Be playful.

Playfulness can open up an expanse in confinement.

So… write a story in 26 sentences, with each sentence beginning with a sequential letter of the alphabet, starting with “A.”

The Author

Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. He has published two books on writing, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, and Brave the Page, a teen writing guide. He’s also published a collection of 100-word stories, Fissures, and Nothing Short of 100: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story. He’s also the co-host of the podcast Write-minded. His next collection of short stories, All the Comfort Sin Can Provide is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in July 2021.

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Grant Faulkner,

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Day 21 – Dr. Lanae St. John Wants To Know About Your First Time

The Prompt

Write About Your First Time – this could be your character’s ‘first time’, a kiss or something more.

(If you don’t want to write about a romantic relationship you can still talk about the excitement, build-up, and connection aspects of going through any experience together for the first time.)

Listen to my podcast conversation with Dr. Lanae St. John

The Author

Dr. Lanae St. John, DHS, CSC, ACS, is a board-certified sexologist, relationship coach and parent to two daughters. She is the author of the book Read Me: A Parental Primer for ‘The Talk’. You find out more about Lanae at her website, themamasutra.net

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LANAE ST. JOHN, READ ME: A PARENTAL PRIMER FOR ‘THE TALK’

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Day 20 – Premee Mohamed Has A Question

The Prompt

Premee Mohammed dug into her a short story stash of ideas to share one with us.

‘Superheroes, community service/non-jail punishment for crime, a secret society. 

In a world where superpowers are real, a convicted criminal is spared a prison term… If he agrees to do community service, enforced by an unknown league of incognito superheroes. But how can he skip town while he’s always under their surveillance?”

After our recent podcast episode we discussed this prompt. She suggested that a short story is “an answered question”. This is an insight that REALLY helped me, as I thought about how to start, and end, short stories.

This is raw from the from the index card and I asked Premee to tell us how she would take something like this, a note, and start to think about turning it into a story.

The initial phrase that I sent is a setting or a premise, rather than a plot; it’s the setup. 

I would probably start by trying to figure out who might be involved—a reasonable number of people for a short story—and how they could conflict with each other, or how their needs could conflict with each other. 

I’d make sure I set up some decision points to answer. The question should be set up at the start, you know, because like a short story is really an answered question, right?

I find it useful to have that question at the start instead of having it develop sort of midway through, because then the whole story can be guided by that.

Premee Mohamed

The Author

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction writer based in Canada. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues and her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Rising,’ came out from Solaris Books in March 2020. She can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus.

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PREMEE MOHAMED, BENEATH THE RISING

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Day 19 – Seanan McGuire Asks “What If?”

The Prompt

When the square-cube law is rescinded, internal combustion becomes impossible.  How is travel impacted?  How are daily lives changed?

(e. g. What if cars and other engines couldn’t exist? – JD)

THE AUTHOR

Seanan McGuire (http://seananmcguire.com/) was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. Her short fiction widely published and available on her Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/seananmcguire

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Seanan McGuire, That Ain’t Witchcraft

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Day 18 – Simon Rich Knows More Than Your Character

THE PROMPT

A character who knows less than the reader tries their best to deal with a problem they don’t fully understand.

THE AUTHOR

Simon Rich is  is an American humorist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has published two novels and three collections of humor pieces, several of which appeared in The New Yorker

His message to the StoryADay community: “God speed everyone. Let’s keep writing if we can.”

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SIMON RICH, Hits & Misses: Stories

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Day 17 – Gregory Frost Plays with Point Of View

 The Prompt

Think up a narrative about some form of travel—anything from setting out on an adventure, to a school trip to somewhere, to crossing a border, to an accident on the way, (a train wreck perhaps).

Begin this in the voice of a collective first person: “We.”

How does a group consciousness describe the experience?

Consider both Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s School for Girls Raised by Wolves” and Ayșe Papatya Bucak’s “The History of Girls” as examples of this voice. Note that both authors introduce the element of the individual “I” at critical points among the we. See if you can identify in your story idea where the individual “I” might intrude or take over. (500 words and up)

THE AUTHOR

GREGORY FROST’s most recent novel-length work is the Shadowbridge duology from DelRey. It was an ALA Best Fantasy Novel pick. His latest short fiction will appear in the September/October 2020 Asimov’s Magazine and in an upcoming issue of Weird Tales.

His collaborative novelette with Michael Swanwick, “Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters, H’ard and Andy Are Come to Town,” won an Asimov Readers Award. His short stories have been finalists for the Stoker, Nebula, Hugo, and Theodore Sturgeon awards.

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GREGORY FROST, SHADOWBRIDGE

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Day 16 – Tobias S. Buckell Thwarts Your Characters

The Prompt

Think about three different characters going into a situation who need three different things to happen in it. Now, all of these things will conflict with the other needs. Think about how they will ally with each other and thwart each other in conversation and subtly trying to influence each other. But only one character can get what they want. Now… go!

The Author

Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 short stories have been translated into 17 languages and he has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He has a fabulous Patreon campaign where you get original stories once a month. He is also the author of one of my favorite new writing guides, It’s All Just A Draftwhich I talked about in this podcast episode.

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TOBIAS S. BUCKELL, IT’S ALL JUST A DRAFT

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Day 15 – Art Taylor Has A Secret

The Prompt

One way to give a character greater depth is to give them some secret: an unspoken desire, a sharp bit of regret, a hush-hush fantasy, some shameful—or maybe much cherished—episode from their past that they wouldn’t want anyone else to know about, etc. And needless to say, secrets can help propel plot forward as well.

Each week, Postsecret.com publishes postcards from people sharing their own secrets, anonymously and creatively.

Visit the site, scan through the most recent postcards (many of them about the pandemic these days) or scroll down to the Classic Secrets reposted from years ago.

Let your imagination wander about these secrets, about the wider world of these “characters” and their situations.

Write a short story in which their secrets (the hiding of them? the revealing of them?) put a plot in motion.

The Author

Art Taylor is the author of the story collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense (which you can order from the publisher here) and of the novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story for “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and he has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, three Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. www.arttaylorwriter.com.

Art Taylor, The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense

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Day 14 – Robb Cadigan Has A Bookstore

THE PROMPT

This is one of the front windows of Reads & Company Bookshop in Phoenixville PA. The stage is set for books to display.

Write a story inspired by this photo.

THE AUTHOR

A former copywriter and television executive, Robb Cadigan is a novelist (Phoenixville Rising) and co-owner of Reads & Company, a first-class independent bookstore in Phoenixville, PA.

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ROBB CADIGAN, PHOENIXVILLE RISING

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Celebrating your every success is an important part of the journey to creating a writing habit you can love. If you’re still turning up at this blog, celebrate!

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Day 13 – Gabriela Pereira Sings Nursery Rhymes

THE PROMPT

Choose a nursery rhyme.

That is going to be the plot of your story.

The key with this exercise is that now choose an author whose voice you love.

Write that story with that character, but in the voice of the author you chose.

Bonus Prompt

This is actually a great prompt to do more than once. Once you’ve done this exercise, you may want to come back to it after the StoryADay challenge and do it again, choosing different writers as the inspiration for the voice.

If you do this, use the same Nursery Rhyme each time. Then you’ll start to get a sense of how, when you’re putting on another author’s voice, you’re sort of wearing that author’s voice suit, how your voice behaves in that ecosystem, and eventually you’ll start to get a sense for what your voice is and what you bring to the table that is completely unique and you can then, write.

After you’ve done it two or three times, I want to challenge you to write that same story in your own voice with your own storytelling awesomeness. This is a great exercise to practice stretching yourself a little bit in terms of your voice, but also to help you find your voice.

People always say, you need to find your voice. Well, you never lost it in the first place. It’s always been there. This will just help you uncover. The things that make your voice especially unique. So there you have it, the Nursery Rhyme Exercise

THE AUTHOR

Gabriela Pereira is a writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed word nerd who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth. Gabriela earned her MFA in creative writing from The New School and teaches at national conferences, at local workshops, and online. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews best-selling authors and offers short audio master classes. 

Gabriela is a long-time friend of both myself and the StoryADay community. To find out more about DIY MFA, click here

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GABRIELA PEREIRA, DIY MFA: WRITE WITH FOCUS, READ WITH PURPOSE, BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY

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Day 12 – Windy Lynn Harris Makes A List

THE PROMPT

Today, your task is to make a list. A literary list, that is.

Grocery lists, to-do lists, or goals lists written with the effect of showing a person’s life, their struggles, their failures, etc, are terrific pieces of flash.

They test the reader’s inferential powers.

Your challenge: provide a list of items from a luxurious bedroom, an overstuffed garage, or a refrigerator. Use specific concrete details. Reveal a sketch of a person’s life through these items. Imply something.

THE AUTHOR

Windy Lynn Harris portrait

Windy Lynn Harris is a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary ReviewThe Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a program that teaches writers how to get their essays and short stories published in magazines, and she works as a developmental-editor-for-hire, specifically for short creative prose. Windy also teaches the craft of writing online and in person. Visit her website for publishing information and writing inspiration: www.windylynnharris.com

You can listen to Windy talk about Flash Fiction on the StoryADay podcast here.

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WINDY LYNN HARRIS, WRITING & SELLING SHORT STORIES & PERSONAL ESSAYS

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Day 11 – Therese Walsh Tests Your Protagonist

THE PROMPT

Restricted and augmented lifestyles in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic may have us writer-types writing more than ever–a silver lining.

But have you stopped to consider how your protagonist(s) might respond to a similar situation?

In the midst of an emergency situation, whom would they seek to protect? How would they behave if confined?

If sharing close quarters with others, what might be said or done that otherwise might not be, and what might be the repercussions?

How might the situation bring out the best in them all–and the worst?

If the exercise brings up interesting ideas, can you create an emergency situation as a part of your story in order to bring your characters to that place organically?

THE AUTHOR

Therese Walsh is the author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and the cofounder of Writer Unboxed. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children.

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This year’s StoryADay May official bookseller is Reads & Company, a privately-owned indie bookseller in Pennsylvania. Any purchase from the site this month supports Reads & Co.

THERESE WALSH, THE MOON SISTERS

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Day 10 – Julie Duffy Celebrates the Number 10

The Prompt

This is — stop me if you’ve heard me say this before — the 10th Anniversary of StoryADay May!

Today I challenge you to write a story that centers around the number 10.

It could be someone’s age, it could be a year, it could be the number of times something has happened (or has to happen).

Surprise me!

In other news, I hope to put together an anthology of stories later this year, celebrating StoryADay’s anniversary and it’s theme will be….10. So get your thinking caps on now!

The Author

Julie Duffy is the founder and host of StoryADay. Her mission is to save the world by saving writers. She helps creative people become more productive, more prolific and more fulfilled through the StoryADay challenges, her Superstars group, the StoryADay podcast, courses and workshops, as well as her guest articles in publications like Writer’s Digest and Writer Unboxed. She is the author of several creativity guides for writers and writes short stories and novels for fun.

Read A Book, Support An Indie

Reads & Company Logo

This year’s StoryADay May official bookseller is Reads & Company, a privately-owned indie bookseller in Pennsylvania. Any purchase from the site this month supports Reads & Co.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!